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Maine draws: bay, wine, lazing, lobster

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Patricia Harris and David Lyon
Globe Correspondents / July 6, 2008

LINCOLNVILLE, Maine - With its short sweep of brown sand and tumbled stones between forbidding blocks of granite, Lincolnville Beach looks at first glance like a strand that only a Mainer could love.

That's assuming travelers notice it at all as they speed through on Route 1 from Camden on their way to Bar Harbor. In truth, this little Penobscot Bay cove is the perfect quiet getaway hiding in plain sight.

With all the planning and packing, weekend escapes sometimes get out of hand, but Lincolnville, just under 200 miles from Boston, reduces everything to the basics: a beach, an inn with rockers on the front porch, and a lobster pound. There aren't a lot of choices to make. Although Lincolnville has several motels and other lodgings, there's only one inn directly across the street from the beach.

This is Grant Lippman's first year running the Spouter Inn more or less on his own (his mother, Cathy Lippman, can't seem to stay away from the gardens). He's had a long apprenticeship since the Lippmans restored this 1832 house back in the 1980s and converted it into a bed-and-breakfast. Grant's father, Paul, is a proficient woodworker and sometime boatbuilder, and the beautifully joined and spar-varnished cabinets throughout the inn attest to his skills. His workmanship dovetails nicely with a variety of antique furnishings to strike the perfect blend of Maine farmhouse and nautical inn.

Looking to economize, we took the smallest of the inn's rooms, the Fo'c'sle, where Paul Lippman's cabinets in the small bathroom didn't seem at all incongruous with the room's Victorian dark walnut furniture.

Besides, we knew we weren't going to spend that much waking time up on the second floor, even with our great view of the sea. As soon as we checked in, we made a beeline to Cellardoor Vineyards in Lincolnville, the state's first farm winery. After a decade of harvests, the vines have matured sufficiently to produce some pleasant quaffing wine, especially the riesling and a vidal blanc that goes by the name "Vino DiVine." With crisp acidity and just off-sweet fruitiness, the vidal proved a perfect wine to sip during the evening when we rocked on the front porch and watched the island of Islesboro (just three miles across a narrow strait) appear and disappear in the fog. We weren't the first to rock and sip, rock and sip. The Spouter Inn has a guest refrigerator beneath a cabinet full of wine glasses and assorted corkscrews.

That fog usually burns off by 8 a.m. in midsummer, so it's worth staking out a patch of sand on the beach early if it promises to be a hot day. Lincolnville is a favorite with locals from the 20-mile stretch between Rockland and Belfast. At high tide, the beach may only encompass about 50 by 500 feet of fairly soft brown sand. But there aren't a lot of sand beaches on this slice of midcoast Maine.

At low tide the receding water reveals another 200 feet of small gravel and smooth stones, including lots of flat pieces of shale and slate that small children since time immemorial have found perfect for skipping over the gentle waves. And when the tide comes in, the sun-baked rocks heat up the 50-degree ocean to near bathwater temperatures. Even at high tide the water is shallow - better for splashing and wading than swimming -which makes it ideal for youngsters.

There's a small strip of shops across the street from the beach for whiling away the time waiting for the tide to rise. Monroe Salt Works with its salt-glazed stoneware is the perfect spot for picking up a traditional bean pot or a coffee mug emblazoned with a hand-painted lobster, bear, pine tree, or chickadee. The Maine Artisans Collective has all manner of craft, including split-ash basketry, as well the obligatory blueberry products (jam, salsa, barbecue sauce, and more). Sea glass jewelry has made such a comeback in Maine that it's become almost impossible to find any glass on the beach, save the occasional newly shattered beer bottle. Beach Inspirations sells some striking sea glass bracelets, earrings, and necklaces; the secret, the staff explains, is that a diver finds the glass on the sea floor before it ever washes ashore.

There are three dining choices at Lincolnville Beach, but the Lobster Pound Restaurant is easily the most iconic and nearly impossible to miss. No surprises lurk on the menu here; neither lobster nor any of the other local seafood (clams, scallops, tiny shrimp, haddock) needs to be gussied up. The crustaceans are steamed, the fish sometimes broiled, and everything else is fried. In a nod to non-fish eaters, the menu also has burgers, chicken, and steaks. Fried platters are the best bet for the outdoor deck, where sharing fries with the seagulls is part of the experience.

We picked Lincolnville Beach for an indolent getaway, but when we got restless, we took the Margaret Chase Smith ferry from the terminal on the south end of the beach to Islesboro, only 20 minutes away. We took our car, but the 14-mile-long island can be just as well explored by bicycle. (Bring your own as there are no convenient rentals.)

Islesboro's landscape embodies a peculiar coastal magic. The deeply leafy woods of the narrow island slump off into old saltwater pastures that lead to dozens of small coves with deep anchorage that made the island home to a big shipping fleet in the days of coastal schooners (and, some say, during the days of Prohibition). The south tip of the island, Town Beach, is one of the few spots where visitors can get access to the water. The rugged rocks here are favorite haul-outs for harbor seals in the summer.

With handsome old houses, luxuriant gardens, a shipyard, and a couple of shops at a crossroads, Dark Harbor is the only one of the island's three official villages to actually look like a village. The main gathering spot is Dark Harbor Shop, where summer folks pick up their reserved copies of The New York Times and year-rounders and visitors rub elbows over sandwiches, cups of coffee, or ice cream floats at the old-fashioned soda fountain with its handful of stools. The front window functions as the community bulletin board, where notices announce everything from a bake sale to a community supper or a guided nature walk. The evening events are for residents: The last ferry leaves before dark.

That's not necessarily a bad thing when the porch is waiting at the Spouter Inn.

Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at harris.lyon@verizon.net.

If You Go

Where to stay Spouter Inn 2506 Route 1 800-387-5171, 207-789-5171 spouterinn.com Doubles $125-$235 in summer. Where to eat Lobster Pound Restaurant Route 1 207-789-5550 lobsterpoundmaine.com Daily for lunch and dinner. Entrees $12.95-$24.95. Dark Harbor Shop Dark Harbor village, Islesboro 207-734-8878 Daily 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Sandwiches $4-$6.50. What to do Cellardoor Vineyard 367 Youngtown Road 207-763-4478; mainewine.com Daily 11 a.m.-6 p.m. through Columbus Day. Free tastings. Monroe Salt Works Route 1 207-789-5599 Daily 9 a.m.-7 p.m., summer. Maine Artisans Collective Route 1 207-789-5376 Daily 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m., summer. Beach Inspirations 2524 Route 1 207-789-5117 Daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m., summer. Maine State Ferry Service Lincolnville Terminal 207-789-5611 www.state.me.us/mdot/opt/fer ry/maine-ferry-service.php Frequent daily crossings between Lincolnville Beach and Islesboro. Round trip: vehicle and driver $25, passengers $8.50, bicycles $7; vehicle reservations ($8 each way) recommended.

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